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Do Idol and Dancing Contestants Get Paid?

Jason Castro, American Idol Season 7 FOX

How can the American Idol contestants live if they've put their jobs on hold? Do they get paid? What about shows with celebs, like Dancing With The Stars? Do they get paid more because they are already famous?
—Jardin, El Paso

Sure, the Idol contestants get paid. According to a contestant from last season, they are given roughly $30 a day for food, which is enough to sustain them on Chicken Crispers from Chili's—for breakfast, lunch and dinner—until they are eliminated.

Actually, I take that back. According to my research, the Crispers cost roughly $9, and that doesn't include tax, tip and beverages. So the contestants can afford to have a Crispers breakfast and a Crispers lunch, but not dinner.

If that sounds ghetto, well, wait. There's more.

According to Leslie Hunt, the season-six contestant I grilled, hopefuls also get another $500 a week on top of that. But they have to spend it on clothes, which Simon gets to spit on later. (Don't cry for the kids too much. Hunt has recovered nicely. She's releasing an album July 1 with material she wrote and composed herself.)

And that's it. Until you get axed. 

"Once you're into the top 12," Hunt elaborates to this B!tch, "you get a check for even more money if you're eliminated. If you're within the top two, then you get a car. The higher up you are, the more money you get when you get eliminated. I think the winner received a six-figure amount."

Idol spokespeople didn't return a call and an email seeking comment, so the pay may have gone up slightly since the season of Sanjaya. But I suspect as long as signs above Quiznos continue to glow, the food stipend will remain roughly the same.

Onward, to Dancing with the Stars.

And upward, it seems.

Performers on that show get at least the going rate dictated by the radio and TV artists union: $921 for the hourlong episodes and $1,163 for the 90-minute boondoggles. More famous DWTS dancers, of course, negotiate their own, higher, salaries. According to a judgment issued in Heather Mills' divorce case last month, the ex-wife of Paul McCartney earned about $217,000 when she performed in season four.

Why the better deal for DWTS twirlers?

Get this: The union, better known as AFTRA, covers all TV and radio performers who use a talent to entertain an audience—unless the performer is an amateur competing for cash.

DWTS performers compete for glory, and a shiny trophy.

But given what Hunt said above about postelimination pay, Idol might fall under the competing-for-cash category.

So, sorry, Syesha. Enjoy those Crispers.

Got a question about how Hollywood works? ASK ME already! 

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